LEWISBURG, WV (LOOTPRESS) – The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) has strived since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain the safety of its students, faculty and staff. But anxieties resulting from the spread of the virus are inevitable, and behind the scenes, one campus organization is working to help medical students have a voice in ensuring that pandemic-related stress is addressed.
In September 2020, Julianna Quick, a learning specialist and student counselor at the school, and Roy Russ, Ph.D., WVSOM’s associate dean for preclinical education, created WVSOM’s Stress Relief Task Force as a forum in which students can make administrators aware of their concerns. The task force, which includes one student representative from each of the four graduating classes currently enrolled at WVSOM, was established at the request of James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, and Craig Boisvert, D.O., WVSOM’s vice president for academic affairs and dean.
The group’s objective is to assess students’ level of pandemic-related stress and find ways to speak to their concerns. Quick, who co-chairs the task force with Russ, said ongoing communication plays an important role in achieving that goal.
“The administration had already done a lot of things to address students’ needs,” Quick said. “But we felt it was important to get together with the students at least once a month so that everybody is on the same page. We want to know what they need and what they’re struggling with.”
As an example, Quick said that during one group meeting, a student representative explained that his class needed more information about the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act that was signed into law last March and how it might benefit West Virginia’s higher education students.
“That led to the representative and I meeting with the school’s financial aid director to talk about the gaps in information the students had,” Quick said. “Then the director sent out an email to students clarifying the information.”
Quick said the task force also has addressed questions about where students on rotations can obtain personal protective equipment. Additionally, it has helped students connect with stress-decreasing initiatives and events offered by WVSOM, such as virtual yoga sessions, socially distanced art studios and an October Field Day organized by several campus clubs that gave students a chance to socialize and participate in outdoor activities while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
In addition to the student representatives, the Stress Relief Task Force comprises faculty from WVSOM’s biomedical sciences, clinical sciences, and osteopathic principles and practice departments, as well as staff from the school’s Clinical Evaluation Center, National Boards and Exam Center, Statewide Campus, Office of Student Life and Office of the President. The group has met regularly since its formation and will continue to meet as long as circumstances warrant.
Olivia Giambra, the group’s first-year student representative, said she sees the task force as an example of WVSOM’s dedication to those who are pursuing a medical degree at the school — a commitment that remains even during unusually challenging circumstances.
“COVID-19 has dictated so much of our lives for the past year, and it’s causing things to constantly change and requiring students to be aware of new updates,” Giambra said. “I’m happy that WVSOM has taken the initiative to address students’ concerns and not brush them under the rug. A student can reach out to me or to one of the other representatives and know that their voice is going to be heard. That’s the most important thing about this task force: It keeps the lines of communication open.”